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Fuel Bank is delivered through a number of community partners up and down our country, but Coronavirus presents a challenge we have never seen before:
- Our partners may not be able to open their centres or man their phone lines at the times they plan. This mean that prospective Fuel Bank clients may not be able to access help at the time they require it.
- Need will increase as family finances are hit through periods of not working or working reduced hours, having a reduced income, or periods of illness.
Today the Fuel Bank Foundation provides some simple guidance to support families with prepayment energy meters who may be at risk of self-disconnecting over the coming months:
- Try to maintain a healthy credit balance on your prepayment meter at all times. If you can, avoid waiting until your meter has run out of credit before topping up and aim to build up a healthy credit balance in case you are unable to top up in the future. Any credit balance on the meter will remain yours and if you move out or switch energy supplier you will be refunded any balance that remains outstanding.
- Even if you are not using your energy supply – maybe you are away or have switched off the gas heating – remember that you might still be incurring standing charges. Standing charges normally need to be cleared to allow the prepayment meter to work and so it’s important to ensure that – where possible – these are cleared so any electricity or gas credit you buy can be used when you need it most.
- If you are unable to leave your house to top up, please ask a friend or relative to top up for you. Try to avoid leaving this to the last minute to avoid running out of heat or light at the worst possible time.
- If you are worried about self-disconnecting and you feel that you have no alternative options, please contact your supplier… they may be able to offer some help. This might include providing a small advance to cover the cost of energy for a few days, but this will need to be repaid.
At the same time the Fuel Bank Foundation calls for energy suppliers and the Government to work together to increase the amount of emergency credit that is available on every prepayment meter to provide some immediate respite to pre-paying energy consumers and to avoid self disconnection. Emergency credit provides a lifeline of around £5 to keep the meter working once all of the customer’s credit has been used up. A nationwide increase in emergency credit levels could increase the buffer available to families who are struggling and avoid some unnecessary self disconnections. Or at least provide some delay.
This is not something that can be delivered by one energy supplier in isolation since it requires coordination to provide reassurance to families across our country that regardless of their supplier the same emergency credit buffer exists. Government also needs to consider how it provides support to energy suppliers from making this change, given the commercial impact is potentially significant.